An Athens sales and marketing firm has registered a web site to promote the rezoning of 47 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector for a major shopping center that would include a Publix.
The web site contains information used by land planner Ken Beall in his presentation to the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday night, including a concept plan for the project that is different from and at odds with the one submitted to the county for the rezone request.
Centerpiece of the web site is a video that has been shared on Facebook that calls the project “environmentally responsible.”
The developers have secured a permit to drain and fill a stream on the site, and planners at the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission criticized the project as disruptive of “onsite natural resources.”
The web site uses the name Grow Smart Oconee, and a related Facebook page says Grow Smart Oconee is a “Community Organization.”
The video, the web site, and the Facebook page do not give any contact information or any other information about who is behind Grow Smart Oconee.
Web Site And Video
The web site is registered to Snowden Tatarski Corporation, which LinkedIn defines as a “A Marketing Strategy and implementation firm.”
|Web Site Appearing In Support Of Rezone|
According to the Secretary of State corporate registration, Jeff Snowden is the CEO and Richard Tatarski is the CFO.
The company is based in Athens-Clarke County.
The web site was created on March 14, or five days before the Planning Commission meeting on Monday.
At the meeting, the Planning Commission voted 6 to 3 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny the rezone request by Maxie Price’s Deferred Tax for the rezone of the 47 acres for the commercial development that would include a hotel, car lot, retail shops, and the Publix.
The video, which runs 2 minutes and 34 seconds, says the county has been recognized because of its highly rated schools and rating as a good “place to raise a family.”
“These things have not happened by accident,” the male voice on the video states. “Oconee County has been carefully and continually planned to become what it is today and what it will continue to be in the future,” the voice continues.
“The amount of revenue produced by property tax simply won't be enough to sustain the many things people love about Oconee County,” the voice states.
“The solution is growing, but growing smart,” the voice continues. “This mean having the right mix of residential commercial and industrial uses to supply jobs and revenue to support the county while protecting quality of life.”
The proposed development is expected to pay more than $5 million in local tax each year, the voice states.
“That benefit is on top of added quality and convenience of having another local option for shopping or locating a small business,” the voice continues.
“As part of the development process, incredible care will be given to the economic, environmental, and aesthetic benefits to the whole county from greenscaping to adding needed infrastructure to environmental restoration,” the video claims.
“The development at Oconee Connector in Mars Hill is a chance to let high quality, environmentally responsible development provide the revenue and jobs that will help Oconee County be the top destination to live, work, and play,” the narrator states.
The video does not mention that the proposal is to eliminate a stream on the property that is a tributary to Barber Creek.
The Northeast Georgia Commission planners criticized that activity, recommending instead that “that the buildings be clustered along a walkable main street or organized around a central square of parkland that would protect the stream and provide some walkability and a sense of place within the site.”
The Grow Smart Oconee web site shows 12 “images and renderings,” many with lots of grass and one with a water feature.
One of those renderings is a concept plan that Beall presented to the Planning Commission on Monday night that conflicts with the concept plan submitted to the planning staff for review at the time of application for the rezone.
The new concept plan includes a pond not present in the original plan as well as different entrances.
Staff has rejected the request by Price that the main shopping center entrance on the Oconee Connector have a traffic signal and right and left turn access as well as a request for five entrances on Mars Hill Road.
County planners have said the Oconee Connector access should only be right-in, right-out and that only three entrances should be allowed on Mars Hill Road, with two roundabouts.
William Berryman, attorney for Price, informed the county that Price rejected all of those conditions.
Beall’s concept plan shows four entrances on Mars Hill Road, one as a roundabout.
It does show the main entrance on the Oconee Connector, but the large traffic signal shown in the original concept plan (shown below the main section of the Grow Smart web page) is missing.
I have emailed Beall and asked him who is behind the Grow Smart Oconee web site but have not yet heard back from him. (See Addendum below.)
A citizen group, calling itself Mars Hill Responsible Development has organized to oppose the rezone request and is seeking signatures on a petition to present to the Board of Commissioners when it meets to make its decision on May 4.
Beall responded to my email today (April 27) and told me that “GrowSmartOconee is not my website.”
Beall said that Snowden “prepared the video,” and Beall gave me contact information for Snowden from Snowden Tatarski.
I spoke with Snowden by telephone this morning.
Snowden said the web site, social media posts, and video were his work and that his clients were “a group of proponents” of the rezone “including one who lives nearby.”
Snowden said that the voice on the video was his own and that he had access to the materials that Beall had assembled for the rezone hearing.
It looks like spare no expense to try to get this through. No transparency since no one will say who is behind this ad campaign.
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